Taking your own wine to restaurants has long been a debate of etiquette. Fine dining on its own entails a plethora of rules such as napkin placement, utensil arrangement and the proper way to signal the waiter whether the diner is finished eating or simply taking a break.
It’s best to know the wine manners as well when it comes to personal bottles in fine restaurants and corkage fees.
I am one of those who enjoys saving a bottle for exactly the right occasion to share with my family and friends. This sometimes means taking the bottle to my favorite restaurant. This is where the issue of corkage fees comes in. My first advice is to call ahead to confirm the restaurant allows personal bottles. If they say yes, ask the corkage fee policy. Don’t assume casual food equals a low corkage fee. Many restaurants charge $20 to $40, and the fees at some high-end exclusive restaurants are as high as $150 a bottle.
Other points of etiquette:
- It’s best not to take your bottle wrapped in a paper sack. Either have a carrier or carry the bottle in the open. If it’s a white wine its best to have it already semi-chilled. This is important so the staff doesn’t need to scramble to get your bottle to the correct temperature which will inevitably delay your service. Inform your waiter you have brought your bottle and allow him or her to take over from there. Let the staff do their job and don’t attempt to be your own sommelier at the table.
- This next part of the process may be difficult for those of us with expensive or sentimental bottles. What if it’s corked? You must be willing to accept your bottle may be corked. And you cannot expect the restaurant to replace the bottle. When in doubt, ask your waiter to also assess the quality of the bottle to confirm your thoughts on the first taste.
- It’s always a nice gesture after the bottle has been poured to offer your staff a pour to taste the wine. Many in the trade take joy in these moments to taste rare collector bottles from their customers. I always enjoy telling a quick history of the bottle and its importance to our occasion.
- It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), don’t attempt to take your own bottle in an effort to save money and outsmart the wine list. This is bad etiquette.
- Last but not least, don’t forget to tip your staff for the wine even if the corkage fee is minimal. Keep in mind they still opened, presented and served you during dinner.